12 posts categorized "Science"

February 21, 2015

Crazy, stupid... innovation. The imperfect perfection of Tower Bridge #28daysofwriting

I've had a lovely week on holiday down in London with the family, being proper tourists. Under the dreich weather of Monday we ventured Thames-side and towards the terrifying but fun seethrough walkways of Tower Bridge. Along the side of the walkways were photographs of some of the world's great bridges, together with some of the history about how this iconic bridge came to be.

What did we learn?

This landmark, required to cope with the overwhelming population growth on either side of the river and increased river traffic to the upper parts of the Thames, was borne out of many, mostly failed, prototypes, most in the form of sketches.

Thank goodness we didn't stop at the first prototypes submitted to the public competition. The dual lock system would hardly have helped with the drastically increasing river traffic of the industrial revolution:


And a system of hydraulic elevators would have failed in the other sense, not really foreseeing 2015's automotive traffic needing a quick north-south crossing:


Some designers simply did without a bridge and went for the tunnel - perfect for traffic throughput in the longer term and not disruptive at all to the river traffic. In the end, though, it was feasibility that killed these tunnel ideas off - the runways required to descend human and horse-drawn traffic into them were so long that they ate up most of the land either side of the river:


As the final designer was chosen, even his first drafts were off the mark on the aesthetic side:


In the end, the rules for killing ideas and honing the kernels of interesting ideas down haven't changed since the bridge's completion in 1894 and today, as I describe them in my bookdesirability (do they want or need it?), feasibility (can we do it?) and viability (should we do it?).

The result, is an imperfect perfection that we recognise in an instant:


May 15, 2014

Real problem-finding attracting global researchers: Year 9, Denmark


Year 9 students have made a discovery through their own problem-finding in science, and international scientists are honing in on the consequences. Wifi and 3G next to the bed? Not any more.

More on problem-finding from my TEDx talk.

Cross-posted on NoTosh's Facebook page.

February 02, 2012

Making a creativity-friendly school timetable

Danger Zone
School timetables work for so few people, yet it's only a few daring souls that seem to be prepared to change them. A new piece of research adds to the evidence that more flexibility is required to make the most of the latent creativity in our learners and teachers.

At NoTosh we're working with several schools on reshaping their school timetables to create space for teachers and students to conference, one-on-one, on how the day and/or week will look for each student, personalising content and the way learning will be undertaken. We've also been taken with trying to map the energy levels of students and staff to better shape the overall day, discovering, for example, in one school that no-one was fit for learning well first thing on a Monday (quelle surprise), and suggesting we should start and end the day later.

Last night, via Mike Press, I found a new piece of research showing a counterintuitive effect of energy on creativity: the less fresh you are the better it is for your ability to think and act creatively:

"...Tasks involving creativity might benefit from a nonoptimal time of day.”  What this means in everyday language is that morning people should try to solve problems requiring creative thought in the late afternoon, and evening people should undertake them in the morning.

So, where an entire school is fatigued first thing on a Monday is where people should be engaged in creative problem-finding projects, perhaps, rather than in learning the core content elements that might act as a foundation for some project work. 

This is counterintuitive to many who believe that when we're fresh and full of energy we should invest our efforts in our "best" work - if you want to approach it creatively, it might be best to approach it when you're feeling less than your best.

March 05, 2011

Gever Tulley: Don't make "vocational" a dirty word

In a four-part video series for GETideas I travelled the world in 24 hours and asked four educators I admire what their "two stars and a wish" for learning would be for 2011. I'll blog the films here over the next week.

In the last of our four films this week, Gever Tulley, founder of The Tinkering School and author of 50 Dangerous Things, Montara, CA, USA, thinks that we are forgetting about one of the most crucial parts of learning in the quest to increase the scope of learning in science, technology, engineering and maths:

"The first interesting thing about this interview was the speed - or lack of it - in the internet connection. Gever, and the rest of the West Coast of the USA, had just awoken and, as happens every day in late afternoon London time, the connection speed dropped to a snail's pace. This, even in a country like the UK, is part of the real digital divide that still exists.

"Gever feels that we're finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there's a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

"We're figuring out the value of the creative programmes that, in these tough economic times, have been cut. As we erode children's exposure to the arts we also erode the opportunity that science is beginning to reveal: for example, that a child who plays music at a young age happens to do better, longer than those who don't.

"We need to stop relegating the vocational arts to secondary programmes and start embracing making and doing as part of the regular educational experience for both kids and adults."

January 18, 2011

If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing

I was delighted to be offered the op-ed for the BETT edition of the Times Education Supplement. I chose it to highlight the potential of thinking about learning as construction, rather than a series of activities that need 'done', and I'll be developing its ideas for my opening keynote at this year's Naace Annual Strategic Conference:

Ewan McIntosh In The TES Harnessing entirely pupil-led, project-based learning in this way isn't easy. But all of this frames learning in more meaningful contexts than the pseudocontexts of your average school textbook or contrived lesson plan, which might cover an area of the curriculum but leave the pupil none the wiser as to how it applies in the real world.

There is a line that haunted me last year: while pupil-led, project-based learning is noble and clearly more engaging than what we do now, there is no time for it in the current system. The implication is that it leads to poorer attainment than the status quo. But attainment at High Tech High, in terms of college admissions, is the same as or better than private schools in the same area.

The assumption that pupil-led, project-based learning offers less success in exams is a false but persistent one. John Hunter was the anatomist who defined modern medicine because, frankly, no one else had. He had a saying that has since become the mantra of the modern surgeon: "Don't think. Try the experiment."

In the piece I cite just a few of the examples I've been lucky enough to see through 2010, and as a result I've started hearing about other maker-curricula on my own doorstep: Oliver Quinlan's students, described in his TeachMeet BETT talk as they created self-determined projects around the theme of London's Burning, is just one more prime example.

What are your contributions to a maker-curriculum? Let me know, and I'll be sure to include more glorious examples of students engaged in making to learn rather than doing to learn when I open the Naace Annual Strategic conference with my keynote, Don’t think. Try: How brave teachers around the world are making change for themselves.

November 15, 2010

Gever Tulley: "Teach less so we can learn more"

I caught up with Gever Tulley from The Tinkering School at The Education Project in Bahrain, where we were exploring just how we can set up more student-led learning starting from the teacher- or school plan-led processes most schools are stuck in at the moment.

Gever is most well known for his two TED Talks: Five Dangerous Things For Kids and Teaching Life Lessons Through Tinkering. Concepts discussed at a $6,000 a ticket conference are one thing.

What can regular schools learn from his experiences? My quick video with Gever provides some starter points (also available on Vimeo). The key learning from Tinkering School that can be shared with regular schools can be summed up in one statement:

Do less teaching and let students to make more responsibiulty for their education.

The very same mantra was echoed two weeks later in South Africa at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum by a high school student on the main stage. But, how do we make this move in regular schools? Gever thinks there are three good starting points:

  1. Classroom sessions can be self-directed
    Start small, with projects that are discovery-based, such as taking apart an existing device, exploring it.
  2. Get students used to Design Thinking
    It's hard to come up with projects - use some design thinking processes so that students get better, over time, at discovering really interesting problems for which they an create solutions.
  3. Provide protection
    Let kids do their projects, providing some safety nets so that when they fail that failure is supported. Students should be able to take up the pieces and have another go at it, without suffering 'social harm' from their initial failures.

If you want to explore some more ideas around the processes involved in Design Thinking for learning, I'd be delighted for you to join my session (this session room opens one hour before the talk) Tuesday 16 November 6am GMT, at the Global Education Conference. Register online now.

June 09, 2010

Michel Thomas iPhone app, and a reason for learning 'cos' in maths

I admire pretty much everything the many Matts and others at Schooloscope a few weeks ago and, now, a suite of Michel Thomas language learning apps for iPhone.

What caught my eye in the behind-the-scenes making-of blog post was the graphic, opposite, showing how Matt (Brown) designed a "procedural petal", the captivating animated flower that flows in colour with Thomas' hypnotic voice. It's the first time since quitting maths class aged 16 that I've seen how and why you'd use cos.

I was forever that annoying kid who'd always ask Mr Cooper [swap for your own maths teacher's name] "why do we have to learn this?". Rarely did I get an answer beyond, "you might need it one day", and Mr Cooper hadn't picked up on his colleague Mr Walker's fascinating with programming BBC computers and early Macintoshes. Had I known that understanding cos could've helped me get a job with BERG building iPhone apps for Michel Thomas then I'd have stuck it out to the bitter end.

Alas, I didn't, and instead became a teacher of French and German, which means I can but admire and now attempt Spanish with BERG's beautifully produced homage to Michel.

If you want to learn language fast before heading off this summer holiday, then I reckon the boys' app is a great place to start - see the sample video below.

Notwithstanding this, please do check out my good friend Mark Pentleton's award-winning, iTunes-chart-busting Coffee Break language series. It's ace, fast for learning, too. It's just missing procedural petals.

April 16, 2009

Magnetism explained beautifully

Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

If you're a science teacher trying to explain magnetism, you could do a lot worse than showing this beautiful animated film produced for Channel 4 with Arts Council England. As the blurb says:

"Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world?"

Plenty of other vids for scientists, geographers, writers over on the Vimeo site.

Update: Worth reading the comments underneath, reiiterating why finding knowledge on, say, magnetism is increasingly easy but gaining a foot in the door of learning about this might still require a talented teacher with an inspiring vid to kick things off.

December 07, 2005

Yahoo Mindset: intelligent searching

YahoomindsetAt Les Blogs I heard one of the Yahoo CEOs talking about the rather cool Yahoo Mindset. What is does is search for pages. So far so good. But it offers the chance for users to choose if they want more commercial, shopping type results or if they want to get the results for a school project. The latter search means that a search on Harry Potter need not be filled with ads for stuffed puppets, but instead a wealth of information and interactive games.

I hope they get it out of beta soon and this becomes a mainstream searching tool for kids in school.


November 10, 2005

Genuine Geography Question: Ozone Hole or Magnetism?


Pictured is the image I have received for the past few nights from OSXPlanet, about which I have written and over which I have puzzled many a morning.

Here's a genuine question for any budding geographers / physicists / primary school genius. Why is there always a 'hole' in the cloud over the North Pole?

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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